With a list price of $1,595, XLNT Idea’s Nexis 100 AP CD/DVD Publisher costs hundreds less than most of its competitors, and offers a good blend of capacity, performance, print quality, and software usability. If you’re considering an autoloading printer/recorder in the 50-disc capacity range, the Nexis should definitely be on your short list. Note some significant caveats, however, including the lack of network support and Macintosh compatibility.
Setting up the unit was simple. The company includes poster-sized quick-start instructions that walk you through the steps of connecting the printer to power and your computer and installing the software. After installation, you run through a quick procedure to align the print heads, then you’re ready to roll.
The unit is about 18" deep, 20" wide, and 10" high at its peak. The working area is covered by a large translucent hood, with an input source bin on the left, and output bin on the right. Failed discs drop in the center. The source-disc bin has a maximum capacity of 50 discs, though XLNT sells a Kiosk Kit that can boost capacity to 100.
The disc recorder sits in a compartment in the bottom center of the unit, and XLNT Idea currently uses a built-in Sony Optiarc AD-5170A that writes at a a maximum of 18X for DVD±R, 6X for DVD±RW, 8X for DVD±R DL, and 48X for CD-R. Just above the Optiarc burner is the printer, which is based on the Lexmark 600 print head. A black robotic arm manages the workflow from source pile through printing and burning to output.
You connect the unit to your computer via a USB 2.0 connection. Once installed, other applications can access the recorder, so you can burn an audio CD from Media Player or burn DVDs from data or video applications.
The Lexmark print engine uses two cartridges, one black, and one color, which you can install separately. These are the same cartridges used by other Lexmark printers, so you can buy original and remanufactured cartridges from a variety of sources. For example, the Lexmark 26 Color Inkjet Cartridge cost $32.99 on the Lexmark site, and at www.bizrate.com, I found genuine cartridges at that price, with remanufactured cartridges selling for as little as $16.66.
All that glitters is not gold, unfortunately, as I tested a remanufactured cartridge and found quality very poor compared to those supplied by XLNT Idea. More on that below. XLNT Idea quotes print coverage at 100 discs at best quality and 200 discs at standard, and that sounds correct based upon my results, but these figures obviously vary widely based upon the amount of color and detail in your label.
Print and Duplication Performance
During setup, you install two software programs collectively referred to as DiscWorks. This includes DiscDirect, where you’ll create and manage your print and burning jobs, and DiscStudio, for label design and printing. Unlike most vendors in this category, XLNT Idea designed both programs from scratch, with mostly very good results. However, as I said earlier, there is no Macintosh client software, and though networking support is planned, the company couldn’t commit to a time frame.
Basic setup options are shown in Figure 1 (left), and include easy buttons for checking ink levels and calibrating robotics. If you’re producing coasters, you can also boost the RAM buffer from its default 160MB to a higher number, but I suffered no coasters in my tests, using a combination of Verbatim and Ridata media.
DiscDirect is a simple program that can queue multiple jobs for batch production. You can operate with wizard-like instructions (Figure 2, left) or without, but you’ll have to work without them to see the job queue. There are eight types of jobs available, with several self-explanatory, including Print Only, Disc to Image, and Disc to Disc.
With a Data Burn job, you can select an ISO file to duplicate a previously authored DVD, choose specific files for backup in a simple Windows Explorer like interface, or select a .dwd file (DiscWorks Data), which is a previously created collection of files. Then select a print label, the desired quantity and click Go. Burn options are extensive and shown in Figure 3 (left). Of particular interest is whether you choose to verify the disc after burning, a nice error detection function, and how the unit deals with failed discs.
The Audio Burn job works similarly; you choose the audio files to burn to CD-Audio, name the album title, and author and burn away. You can save your compilations as a .dwa file (for DiscWorks Audio) for later re-burning, and print and burn simultaneously. The Mixed Burn creates a CD-Audio disc with a data sector that can be read on a computer, and works the same way, including saving compilations into a .dwm (DiscWorks Mixed) file. Interestingly, you can include labels in a Disc to Disc job, so if you’d like to master your audio CDs in another program, them simply reproduce them with the Nexis, that’s probably the way to go.
Automated Multiple-Job Production
Streaming jobs are a useful way to rip and burn multiple unprotected DVDs or audio CDs. You insert a master followed by the desired number of blanks, followed by additional masters, each with the desired number of blanks. The program will sequence through the input discs, ripping and burning then starting the process over when it reaches the next master.
Printing is not an option here, and that will limit its utility for many users. Finally, Auto Insert mode lets you rip multiple audio CDs using iTunes or Windows Media Player, but requires command line programming to operate.
You can easily set up multiple jobs by clicking the New Job button on the upper right of the Queue window (Figure 4, left), though you’ll first have to close the Wizard function by choosing Tools > Enable Queue. Overall, the program provides all necessary functions, and should be accessible to even novice users.
In this area I have a couple of concerns. First, program failures are inadequately described and buried in a log file—if I have an error, I want the program to tell me why without having to go looking. Second, when I initially started my tests, I suffered five or six coasters. When I contacted technical support, they recommended that I reduce the maximum DVD write speed from 20X to 8X-12X, which resolved these problems without slowing performance.
Label Design Wiz
The bundled label-creation software, DiscStudio (Figure 5, left), is one of the most versatile labeling applications that I’ve seen. It includes many useful options like a large clip art library with art for most common disc types like DVD-Video and CD-Audio. The tool is simple in appearance, with design primitives like lines, arrows, rectangles, and circles on the upper left and a configuration window on the right, leaving almost the entire screen available for design.
For the record, I tested the program on a Dell Precision 390 Workstation with a 2.93GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 3.25GB RAM, with a luscious 30" HP LP3065 flat-panel LCD monitor. The background image in the label shown in Figure 5 was an HDV frame (1920x1080) from the ballet, and when I maximized DiscStudio to full screen, it looked like a poster. Of course, that’s my daughter on the lower left (cute hat, eh?). Total design time was about 15 minutes.
DiscStudio includes a number of templates, including FullFace CD/DVD, so you don’t have to measure your inner and outer diameters to print correctly. It also ships with an incredible number of fonts, which is always fun, but no controls for kerning, leading, and the like and no font preview before selection.
Obviously, you can import your own images as background, with good, if somewhat tedious, size and positioning controls. You can add curves and spirals to your text to match disc edges and your design whimsies, and display a design grid to assist your efforts. There are also simple options for adding data fields like year, month, day, and serial number to your labels, as well as links to external data files, though documentation is minimal.
There were some rough edges. For example, after applying a curve or spiral to your text, moving and resizing controls got kind of wiggy, and it was very tough to precisely position the text. In addition, when you return to re-edit a text box, the font parameters don’t match those current applied, so you can’t tell which font you used or the font size. Fortunately, any time you create new text, the program applies the settings from the text you just edited, so it’s easy to stay consistent. Overall, however, the proof is in the pudding, and the labels I created were fantastic.
Print Quality and Performance
Of course, pretty labels on your monitor don’t always translate to high-quality print output. My gold standard here is the Epson Color Stylus R380 printer, and to date, no automated printer has matched it. Still, the Nexis came close enough, and unless your customers compare the same labeled disc produced with these printers with a magnifying glass at close range, they won’t notice the difference.
In other performance trials, the Nexis produced ten 4.4GB discs in just under 84 minutes using both Verbatim and Ridata 16X media, or a disc in about 8.4 minutes. This translates to a transfer rate of about 8.73MB/sec, or about 6.3X transfer speed, which seemed low given the recorder and media specs. Based on results in other EMedialive reviews of DVD publishing systems, it appears that around 6X is the maximum speed you can expect in real-world applications.